2019 Subaru Ascent First Review
Starting Price: $32,970
Engine: 260-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder
Fuel Economy: 23 mpg combined (22 mpg Limited/Touring)
Warranty: 3 years or 36,000 miles
Similar: Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder, Mazda CX-9, Toyota Highlander
Subaru established a strong reputation for vehicles known for reliability, safety and emotional appeal, and that reputation created a loyal following. There was only one problem: younger buyers and couples who liked Subarus didn’t have a model to buy when their families got bigger, so they were forced to look elsewhere for a larger SUV. For 2019, Subaru has an answer: the Subaru Ascent. The company’s new 3-row SUV has the room larger families are looking for and the safety that they need, plus the sportiness and light off-road capability that draws buyers to Subaru dealerships.
This isn’t the first time Subaru dipped a toe into the three-row SUV waters. Subaru’s Tribeca was on the market until 2014, but its undersized cargo area and third row kept it from being competitive. This time around, the company has learned important lessons that translate into an SUV with a combination of features that give it a unique and compelling place in a crowded segment.
Looks Like a Subaru
Take one part Subaru Outback, one part Subaru Forester, puff it up and give it a larger, upright grille, and you have the looks of the Ascent. The styling is tasteful and attractive, and the proportions are good, but while the looks are exactly what you’d expect from Subaru, they don’t stand out as much as other SUVs. That is by no means a bad thing, but when you see an Ascent on the road, it may take a second glance to realize this is an all-new SUV. For those that have been eyeing Subarus for the past several years, you’ve noticed a shift toward more upscale interiors with a wider array of options, and that trend continues with the Ascent. Available with leather or cloth, plus an attractive mix of color options, interior materials are pleasant to the eye and to the touch, and most controls are intuitive and within easy reach.
Drives Like a Subaru
The 2019 Subaru Ascent is based on a longer version of the Subaru Global Platform, which is currently the basis for the Impreza and Crosstrek and will serve as the foundation for all future Subarus. It uses a generous amount of high-strength steel, and is designed to be a quiet platform while helping provide the basis for a more spirited ride. With the Ascent, there are two standard items that can’t be changed or upgraded: all-wheel drive, a Subaru mainstay; and the powertrain, a turbocharged 4-cylinder boxer engine that uses a continuously variable transmission.
From our first experience driving the Ascent, the 4-cylinder engine offers plenty of power. The 2.4-liter turbo engine offers 260 horsepower, in line with other 3-row SUVs on the market. We had an easy time getting up to speed, and the large Subaru showed no signs of running out of steam on grades or twisty roads. The engine’s 277 lb-ft of torque also helps. Acceleration isn’t sports-car fast, but it doesn’t have to be. With the Ascent, you’ll have plenty of power for freeway passing maneuvers and getting on the highway, and this engine serves as a good compromise between power, capability and fuel economy. The big test will be driving the Ascent with a cabin full of people while towing, an evaluation we’re eager to try. With this engine, the Ascent can tow up to 5,000 pounds and nets fuel economy up to 21 mpg city, 27 highway. Limited and Touring models come with additional equipment – and weight – that bring city and highway mileage down by one mpg.
Where the Ascent shows signs of sportiness is with its handling, steering and braking. The Ascent isn’t ultra-light: its base curb weight is 4,430 pounds, yet on twisty roads, the handling and quick steering response make this 3-row SUV feel like a smaller vehicle. It’s agile and drives smaller than its size would suggest. It doesn’t have the same sprightliness as the Mazda CX-9 and it’s no WRX, but it does come standard with Torque Vectoring, and for those who want an engaging driving experience with their SUV, the Ascent makes a strong argument. Steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters come standard, and make the CVT feel more like an 8-speed automatic. Braking is also quite good, responsive without being touchy and there's no mushy pedal feel.
Better yet, the Subaru’s engaging drive doesn’t come at the expense of ride comfort. Straight-line driving is relaxed and comfortable, the interior is quiet (although we did hear some road noise), and the seats have the right support for use on day-long drives. If you want more thigh support, there’s an extender for the driver’s lower seat cushion. If we were left wanting for anything, it would be more side bolstering on the seats.
Visibility is quite good for a few notable reasons. First, the A-pillar is narrow enough to make room for a larger glass area, which allows the driver to see more of the road at the front corners. A rearview camera comes standard. If your SUV is full to the point of blocking the rearview mirror (imagine if it’s filled with camping gear or your belongings on moving day), those who opt for the topline Touring model get a rearview mirror that uses a camera to display what’s behind the vehicle. You push a tab as if you were changing the mirror from day to night angle, and the camera comes on. Turn it off in the same way. Touring models also have a 180-degree front-view monitor that works at low speed to show you what’s ahead.
The Ascent is available as a seven- or eight-passenger vehicle. There is no extra charge for getting second-row captain’s chairs (Premium level and above), and that selection makes it very easy to get to the third row. Either way, the third row is easy to access. The Ascent’s doors open 75 degrees, creating a nice, wide point of entry, step-in is pleasantly low, and the sliding split second row tilts forward. With the second row back in place in its regular default spot, there is enough knee room in the third row for kids, but it’s tight for most adults. If a grown-up is going to sit back there, all they have to do is ask the second-row passenger right in front of them to slide the seat forward a touch. Problem solved.
The seats basically fold flat, but for a flatter cargo space you should get the second-row bench seat. The captain’s chairs are bolstered a little more so they don’t compress as much. Also note that when the second and third rows are folded, there is a slight gap between the rows. When they are folded, though, you create space for more than 86 cubic feet of cargo. You have almost 18 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the third row when it’s up. And the cargo area has a nice, wide opening that makes loading gear a snap, as well as an available power liftgate. There’s even a storage cubby under the load floor where you can stow the cargo area cover when it’s not in use.
But the interior is more than merely functional. The Ascent is available with 3-zone climate control, and passengers in the second row have their own controls for the fan. Seat heaters are offered for the first two rows, and a heated steering wheel is also an option. You can get a panoramic moonroof, as well as sunshades for the rear side windows. Seat materials are either cloth, spill-repellent cloth, or leather. Pushbutton start is standard on the Limited and Touring, and optional on the Premium, and all Ascents come with at least four USB ports – and a whopping 19 cupholders.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility are standard, and can be controlled through an 8-inch touch screen with additional knob controls. The base Ascent uses a 6.5-inch screen. Subaru’s new SUV has a new head unit, as well as the ability to serve as a wi-fi hotspot for up to eight devices. (Good thing you can get up to eight USB ports…) There’s a 14-speaker harman/kardon audio system available, as well as a mobile entertainment system that includes wireless headphones, two iPads and two OtterBox cases to carry it all.
Subaru puts a strong emphasis on safety, and some of the Ascent’s safety features start with the vehicle’s platform, which is designed to absorb energy in the event of an accident. Subaru’s EyeSight system, which comes standard on all Ascents, includes adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane departure warning and lane-keep assist. Lane-keep assist does a good job of subtly keeping you in the lane, but every time the system can’t detect both sides of the lane the system will beep to let you know. If you don’t want to use the system, you can shut it off with the touch of a button on the steering wheel. Lane departure warning will beep at you if you start to drift into the next lane over; there’s a button on the headliner to turn that off if you so desire. The Ascent also has available blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert, and LED headlights that change angle as you drive around a curve. If you are stopped at an intersection and don’t notice when the light turns green and the vehicle ahead of you moves, lead vehicle alert will bring your attention back to the road. There’s also reverse automatic braking that can reduce the impact if you are about to back into something.
Subaru’s Starlink Connected Services, standard on all but the base model, offers remote start, as well as features that help keep teenage drivers within a certain area, and monitor vehicle speed. An additional package includes roadside assistance, diagnostic alerts, remote vehicle locking and unlocking, a stolen vehicle recovery service, and SOS emergency assistance.
Towing and Hauling
When we drove the Ascent, we had the chance to do some mild off-roading to test out the X-Mode system. This feature controls power when you’re on dirt or sand, and includes hill descent control. The Ascent fared well driving on somewhat hard-packed sand at the beach, and also easily got through a small off-road course. While no rock-crawler, the Ascent has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, which will give you easier access to your next adventure. We also towed a 4,200-pound Airstream trailer. The engine wasn’t taxed by the job, and the Ascent felt unfazed by having a trailer in tow. Standard towing capacity is 2,000 pounds, but you can get a Subaru-installed hitch that increases that capacity to 5,000.
2019 Subaru Ascent Specs
Warranty: 3 years or 36,000 miles
Drivetrain: All-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 113.8 in
Overall Length: 196.8 in
Overall Width: 76.0 in
Overall Height: 71.6 in
Curb Weight: 4,430-4,603 lb
Turning Circle: 38.0 ft
Final Assembly: Lafayette, Indiana
Trims and Pricing
The 2019 Subaru Ascent is offered in four trim levels: base, Premium, Limited and Touring. All Ascents come with a 2.4-liter turbocharged boxer 4-cylinder engine, continuously variable transmission and all-wheel drive. The Ascent will go on sale this summer. All prices listed here include destination.
Price (MSRP): $32,970
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
6.5-inch multimedia touchscreen
Four USB ports
Three-zone climate control
Auto Vehicle Hold
Price (MSRP): $35,170
Blind-Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert
Power driver seat
Spill-repellent cloth upholstery
Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter handle
Rear seat passenger climate controls
Upgraded 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels
All-Weather Package (heated side mirrors, three-mode heated front seats, windshield wiper de-icer)
Options: Second-row captain’s chairs, reverse automatic braking, 20-inch wheels, panoramic moonroof, power liftgate, keyless entry with pushbutton start, navigation, cargo cover
Price (MSRP): $39,970
LED steering responsive headlights with high-beam assist,
Body-color side mirrors with integrated turn signals
Adjustable thigh support for the driver’s seat
Reverse automatic braking
Keyless entry with pushbutton start
Six USB ports
Price (MSRP): $45,670
Satin silver side mirrors
Chrome exterior accents
Java Brown leather interior
Woodgrain-pattern interior accents
Starlink 8.0-inch navigation
14-speaker harman/kardon audio system
Three-mode ventilated front seats
120-volt power outlet
Smart rearview mirror
180-degree front-view camera
More New and Redesigned Models for 2019